Mammoths, Margaritas and the Magnetosphere

Mammoths were indeed,
a day at the museum
taught us, now we know.

We all love monsters,
even those painted bright red.
Eek! Run cave man, run!

Our visit to Whitehorse fell in the third of the year I've increasingly noticed is the closed for winter period - attractions in the snowy climes tend to be closed or have very limited hours.  Despite that limitation, Mark and I were able to find a time to visit the enjoyable Berengia Museum that explores the interesting tale of the area in prehistoric times (via some excellent dioramas and taxidermy, I might add!). Sadly, the Transportation Museum next door was not open, so I had to make do with simply posing in yet another giant tire to slake my thirst for giant moving machines.

Before we left town and headed back to the cabin, Mark I stopped at a place called Sam and Andy's that billed itself as a "Tex-Mex" joint.  We were on a mission to indulge in one of the few rituals we feel compelled to share and repeat - the sampling of regional margaritas.  The two of us have shared margaritas pretty much all over the world (my favorite to date being a cherished Kyoto iteration) so every time we find ourselves in a new city, we quickly scout out a place to acquire new specimens for our collection.  Let's just put it this way: the worldwide interpretation of Tex-Mex dishes has unselfishly provided a never ending source of entertainment for us over the years.

The closest Sam and Andy's got to earning a Tex-Mex designation (besides a respectable margarita with real lime juice) was a taco plate that wasn't called a taco plate, but was described as being smothered in a "conquesa" sauce.  Yeah, well....sort of close...only......nevermind.

So Mark and I opted for the Tex-Mex Skins, which Mark pointed out hilariously should be called the "Mes-Skins" just like a west Texas farmer from Pecos would say it.  We found that the hideously green bottled hot sauce from the condiment box perked those taters right up and had the added benefit of creating a visual spectacle at the same time. Needless to say, we cooked dinner at home that night - some delicious bean soup with moose smokies that our host Andrew had generously shared with me (along with some moose bratwurst!).  No aurora action to speak of this night - maybe a little sleep?

When we woke Tuesday morning it had been snowing over night and the flakes were still coming down.  Which made a lovely backdrop for the huge picture windows we sat near, sipping coffee and lingering over the components of our bacony breakfast. I was mostly preoccupied, though, with contemplating how to produce the layers of waterproof warmth that would be needed for a nice long snowy walk to nearby Lake Laberge.  It was finally time to bust out the snow pants!

We dressed elaborately, ending in sporty snow pants and parkas, and then awkwardly stuffed ourselves into the car to drive to the trail head.  At the trail head, we'd be heading east in the direction of the huge historic lake Laberge (which is really an immense widening of the Yukon river).  The lake was the principal mode of transportation for the miners that streamed steadily into the northern Yukon during the 1890s gold rush. The lake bustled with the business of shipping supplies north to the goldfields.  The cabin I stayed in was located on a road called Policeman's Point that dead ends directly into the lake.  I learned that the moniker stems from the rows of pier pylons that still jut up from the lake where the road meets the water, the ruins of a pier the Mounties built to house their official outpost, a locale for meting out frontier justice.

Abandoned bear bell?
As we began our walk, the snow was coming down in big ragged moist clumps and every horizontal surface was covered with a soft white blanket of freshly snowed flakes.  Mark kept his eye peeled for animal tracks and soon spotted a set of enormous prints that we were both sure belonged to a moose.  Not much further along the trail we began to see both moose and deer tracks criss-crossing back and forth.  Then we began to notice all sorts of prints: birds, rabbits, dogs - even horses.  Despite all those signs of cohabitation, the more distance we put between the trail head and ourselves, the more I began to really sink in to solitude.  It was so overwhelmingly quiet as we walked along that it seemed as though a thick cloud of remoteness had materialized and was hanging in the air like an invisible frozen mist.  But then I find it simultaneously unsettling and thrilling to be so far away from the rest of humanity, so I'd venture to say I'm just waxing melodramatic.

We walked and walked, thinking surely we should have reached the lake by now - maybe we're lost?  That's always my signal to keep going, it's just a little bit further.  The rule serves me like clockwork.  After continuing just a short way past the point where I began to doubt, the trees suddenly came to an abrupt halt and it was obvious we had arrived at the lake.

We gazed out over the vast expanse of snow covered ice and discussed back and forth just how far we'd be willing to walk out onto the lake.  We decided we'd rather be made fun of as dumb Texans that didn't know you could walk all the way across a frozen lake, than to be made fun of as dumb Texans that fell through the ice because we didn't know what the hell we were doing.

None of which diminished one little bit the loveliness of a good long walk in the snowy woods with my sweetie.

Tuesday afternoon, I took the opportunity while Mark was napping to do some more experimenting with photographing CDs and snow.  I still didn't come up with anything brilliant, but it was fun to try and see what I could get.

I'd been anxiously awaiting Tuesday night, because Tuesday night is Bingo night at the Elks Lodge!  I had missed my first opportunity the week prior when I was too worn out from dog ranching to muster the energy required for duking it out on the Bingo floor.  But this Tuesday, I was rarin' to go and had a partner in crime!

All bingo halls should have queens.

Our bingo caller in action
When we entered the hall, I foolishly opted to get each of us a 12 game pack, which means you have 12 cards with which to try and win each and every one of the 24 separate games.  Trouble is, you also have to hurriedly check each of the 12 cards every time a new number comes up, which I found to be much harder than I imagined.  Mark and I were exhausted by evening's end!  Maybe it's because I'm such a bingo irregular.  The regulars could easily daub over 16 cards, and sometimes more. I kept thinking to myself, "And they expect old people to play this game?!"

An older Elk gentleman that served as a game volunteer took Mark and I under his wing and helped us keep all the arcane rules straight.  I don't know how we could have done it without him explaining what we were supposed to do next.  The hall was packed, and a good number of the players looked to be First Nations tribesmen and women.  The competition was grueling! Mark and I had a blast, even though we didn't win a penny. 

We drove home and worked on rustling up some dinner.  The aurora forecast for Tuesday was the best it had been the entire time I had been there, and by damn it did not disappoint!  I made a quick reconnaissance trip outside around 9:45 p.m. (which is early for the aurora) and came running back into the cabin shouting excitedly, "The aurora is out!  Hurry!  Come see!"  We quickly reapplied all our layers and hurried outside with the camera, a blanket and some chairs.  A long opera of ooooooos and aaaaaahhhhs began to issue forth from our mouths as the magnetosphere did its kabuki dance.  The way you can tell it's the aurora when you see it at this distance is that the light pools in the oddest forms and then rapidly evolves to another impossible shape right before your very eyes.  Finally! The phenomena I'd been nattering on about for so long and Mark and we got to share it on Valentine's eve.  We sat in the cold for several hours, loving every minute of it. I took lots of pictures, and not a one of them comes close to doing what we saw any sort of justice.

The best part of the spectacular display the aurora put on for us was when Mark and I finally got cold and tired and went inside.  We put on our fuzzy jammies, turned off all the lights, and watched out the enormous picture window at the foot of the bed while the lights cavorted about in the distance.  Not only had the aurora put on a magnificent show, but it did so in a northeasterly enough direction that we could lay in bed, snuggle under the covers and watch the light change gently as we drifted off to sleep.  It really doesn't get any better than that, I don't think.

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